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North Harrison's Brandon Stokes catches an open pass in the first quarter before turning to run the ball in for the game's first touchdown. Photos by Brian Smith (click for larger version)

Surprises slow Braves early, not late


Cougars use pair of big (tricky) plays leading to TDs


November 06, 2013 | 09:36 AM

Brownstown Central may have come into and left the Class 3A Sectional 31 semi-final undefeated but it didn't keep North Harrison from taking a shot at the Braves.

North Harrison held an early lead and kept pace with the Braves through 1-1/2 quarters, thanks to a pair of tricky offensive plays. It was the fourth-ranked Brownstown Central football team, however, that responded through the air. Five touchdown passes by Clay Brown helped Brownstown Central score 39 unanswered points to defeat the Cougars, 52-13, Friday in Ramsey.

"We knew going in we couldn't pound the ball against them but looked to hit a big run here and there," North Harrison coach Mark Williamson said. "When this could have been our final game, we could have played it scheme-wise to keep the score closer, but we game-planned to win."

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North Harrison's Trey Kuerzi is helped off the field by teammates Dustin Nevil, left, and Jerammi Knable after injuring his knee while being sacked in the second half. Kuerzi subbed for starting quarterback Jack Phelps when Phelps had to leave the game after he lost his helmet on the previous play. (click for larger version)
The game plan to win was evident early.

North Harrison took a chance on its first drive to convert a fourth-and-1 but was unsuccessful. After stuffing the Brownstown Central run game on three plays, North Harrison took the ball back.

Breaking off a 51-yard scamper, sophomore running back Austin Nevil advanced the pigskin to the Brownstown Central 29. Two plays later, the Cougars unconventionally went into hurry-up mode.

Spreading four wide receivers to the right, tight end Brandon Stokes went uncovered on the left side, leaving the senior wide open in the middle of the field. Catching the ball from Jack Phelps, Stokes went untouched into the end zone, giving the Cougars a 7-0 lead.

"We ran a tackle-eligible play, which is something we do against man coverage," Williamson said. "They didn't cover him as an eligible receiver. We put our fullback at tackle and threw them off."

Brownstown Central responded by going to the air. Brown had passes of 21 and 8 yards to set up a 21-yard strike to Terry Anderson to knot the game.

Early in the second quarter, the Braves took the lead when Brown connected with Caleb Wischmeier over the middle for a 53-yard score.

North Harrison was able to catch Brownstown Central off guard on the ensuing drive. Phelps completed a 10-yard curl route to Joseph Hinton. Showing his point-guard skills from the hardwood, Hinton tossed the ball laterally to senior classmate Brandon Craig, who sprinted alongside the Brownstown Central sideline. The hook-and-ladder play went for 54 yards.

The big gain set up a 2-yard score by Nevil over right tackle, setting the blue-and-white faithful into a frenzy. The extra point, however, was blocked, leaving the Braves ahead 14-13 with 6:30 to go in the opening half.

"We've worked on it in practice for six weeks," Williamson said of the big play. "We ran it twice before but didn't complete the first phase. Against Paoli, they batted the pass down."

Brownstown Central scrapped the running game for the remainder of the first half and went to the air. The aerial attack led to three touchdowns in the final 4:17 of the second quarter. Kyle Jensen and Anderson caught TDs, while Justin Donnells had a short scoring run set up by the pass.

"We knew they were very capable of throwing the ball," Williamson said. "They are one of the best passing teams I've seen out of the flex-bone formation. That is not a passing formation, but they have done it all year and they do it well."

North Harrison had trouble getting to Brown in the pocket. For the first half, the junior signal-caller was 15 of 17 passing for 319 yards. He would finish the game with 16 of 19 passing for 388 yards and five touchdowns. Anderson (133 yards) and Wilson (116 yards) paced the Braves' receiving corps.

"Offensively, they are the real deal; their quarterback and skill guys are really good. They don't drop passes, run great routes and break tackles after the catch. The bad thing is, they are all back next year," Williamson said.

Leading 35-13 at the half, Brownstown Central allowed the passing game to open the running lanes. Donnells scored his second touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, essentially sealing the game.

North Harrison was limited to three offensive possessions in the last half but was unable to score. Brownstown Central added a field goal then a 69-yard shovel pass for a touchdown to Brown.

With the win, Brownstown Central advanced to the sectional final where the Braves will host Charlestown on Friday.

"Their running game, we really stopped it early," Williamson said. "Then, they were throwing the ball so well we had to make an adjustment to our version of a Tampa-2 to stop their passing game."

Craig led the Cougars offense with 94 yards rushing, while Nevil gained 92 yards on 11 carries. Sam Best had 16 yards.

Through the air, the Cougars took chances but Phelps completed 3 of 11 for 87 yards. North Harrison had a handful of drops as well.

Finishing the season at 5-6 is an improvement for the Cougars, who were 2-8 a year ago. The win total is the most since posting back-to-back seven-win campaigns in 2005 and 2006.

"Our program, we need to make this kind of jump again next year," Williamson said. "We have some promising kids coming up. We can't take any steps back, and I don't think we will. It's all in that weight room."

Work in the weight room will begin the Monday after Thanksgiving.

"I seriously expect to have 50 kids in there between the eighth-grade and the guys we have coming back," Williamson said. "I want to get as big and as strong and as physical as we can possibly get. We'll throw the ball around in the summer, but we won't get in a hurry on the field."

Williamson called 2013 a "fun year" and said he sees the culture changing but will make sure it continues forward. After a 1-4 start, the Cougars went into the Brownstown Central game winning 4 of 5.

"We had some exciting moments this year," the second-year coach said. "More than anything, it is going to be the year I remember a group of seniors buying in and taking hold of this program. It's headed in the right direction."

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